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Cordite Press House known as L134

A Grade II Listed Building in Waltham Abbey, Essex

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Coordinates

Latitude: 51.6947 / 51°41'41"N

Longitude: -0.0093 / 0°0'33"W

OS Eastings: 537686

OS Northings: 201428

OS Grid: TL376014

Mapcode National: GBR KCZ.QGY

Mapcode Global: VHGQ2.SNGP

Entry Name: Cordite Press House known as L134

Listing Date: 15 June 2015

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1424791

Location: Waltham Abbey, Epping Forest, Essex, EN9

County: Essex

District: Epping Forest

Civil Parish: Waltham Abbey

Built-Up Area: Waltham Abbey

Traditional County: Essex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Essex

Church of England Parish: Waltham Abbey

Church of England Diocese: Chelmsford

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Waltham Cross

Summary

A cordite press house of c1915.

Description

A cordite press house, constructed in approximately 1915, modified in the 1950s.

MATERIALS: constructed of yellow brick laid in English Bond, with a felted roof.

PLAN: a linear, rectangular range with a corridor to the rear.

EXTERIOR: the single-storey, 10 bay linear building is aligned north-south; the 1915 structure had 8 bays with 1950s additions of 1 bay to the north and south. Extensive timber casement windows light each bay of the west elevation, while along the east elevation is a lean-to timber corridor with a pent roof supported on a steel frame. The corridor is thought to have been open to the east in 1915, but was infilled in the 1950s. The roof is surmounted by metal vents, one to each bay.

INTERIOR: internally the external and brick partition walls are rendered. Each of the eight bays housed a cordite press operated by hydraulic power, each press having its own metal roof vent. At the centre of each roof are metal roof trusses with raking shores: the roof structure continues beyond the east (rear) wall of each bay to form the corridor roof. The bays' rear wall comprises brick and timber partitions between corbelled brick piers; the partitions are extensively glazed with access doors to each bay from the corridor. Pipe-work for the hydraulic power and parquet flooring remain in most bays, but no equipment pertaining to cordite production remains.

The attached building to the rear, known as L166, which links L134 to L137 is excluded from the listing.

History

Waltham Abbey Royal Gunpowder Factory, currently (2015) a visitor attraction known as the Royal Gunpowder Mills, is a site of national importance to the history of the explosives industry in England. It has origins in the mid-C17, and continued in use as a defence establishment until its closure in 1991.

Cordite is a propellant first recommended for military use in 1888. By 1890 a production plant had been established on the South Site at Waltham Abbey, with further research into cordite development continuing at Waltham Abbey from the late C19, during the First World War and into the inter-war years. A cordite press house took cordite paste, the combination of nitroglycerine and guncotton, from the cordite incorporating mills where acetone had been added to the paste in large tubs, mixed with two spindles powered by an overhead driveshaft. The cordite was extruded in the press houses using screw presses (for small diameters of cordite for rifle cartridges) or hydraulic power (for larger diameter cords for large guns). After pressing, the small-diameter cords were wound onto reels for drying, and the larger cut into required lengths. After pressing, the cordite was taken to a drying house.

During the First World War a rapid increase in the productivity of cordite was required necessitating the construction, in 1915, of cordite incorporating houses, including building L134, on the east flank of the factory at Waltham Abbey, associated with Incorporating Mill building 149 (listed at Grade II*). In the 1950s, building L134 was remodelled to house laboratories for the Explosives Research & Development Establishment (ERDE) and an additional room was added to the north and south ends. Later in the C20, a link building was constructed between L134 and L137, the building to its rear.

Reasons for Listing

Building L134, a cordite press house at the former Waltham Abbey Royal Gunpowder Factory of 1915, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Rarity: the best surviving example of the Waltham Abbey Royal Gunpowder Factory (WARPF) cordite press houses of this period, which are believed to be the last standing purpose-built, roofed press houses nationally;
* Historic interest: with the expansion of cordite production for First World War at WARPF, a site where technological innovation is of national significance for Britain’s explosives industry;
* Group value: by the proximity, historical and functional group value of L134 to a number of Grade II listed buildings to its west and with the Grade II*, building 149 to its south.

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